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Helping persons with autism spectrum disorder lead happy, productive and independent lives.
According to the NIH, 1 in 88 children in the United States is now diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

One of these persons is the son of my brother and sister-in-law. My nephew, Nicolas Llorens, is now 22 years old. Throughout his life, his parents, both medical doctors, have invested time, money and love treating his condition.

But after basically exhausting the education system alternatives, his mother, Rebecca, traveled to many locales to study programs whose objective is to transition persons suffering from ASD to living a productive adult life. Quite frankly, she found that existing post secondary education options simply were not equipped or designed to address the needs of persons suffering from autism spectrum disorder and failed to either tap into skills that are sometimes prevalent in ASD persons.

“I looked at the community college and university programs and options for persons with autism spectrum disorder and they just did not seem to fit what I thought could be achieved for my son and other persons suffering from ASD in order to help them become productive adults,” said Rebecca. “I wanted to find something that I felt really appreciated the talents and skills my son and other persons with autism spectrum disorder could develop and use to help them live happy, independent and productive lives.” Rebecca discussed these issues with her friend Teri Walden, also the mother of a son with autistic spectrum disorder. the two resolved to explore alternatives.

Rebecca traveled to California to consider a program called ExceptionalMind Studios. Rebecca said “ExceptionalMinds is a great program. It helps persons suffering from autism spectrum disorder to use their talents in such creative fields as animation. But I thought the focus was too narrow for what we were looking for. We wanted something a little broader.” So Rebecca and Teri kept searching. Teri traveled to Texas and visited with the good people at Nonpareil. But she also found that while the program was great, it also seemed too narrow for their goals. “Nonpareil focused on gaming and testing. It is a great program but it also was too narrow for what we're looking for,” said Rebecca.

Please read more on this story below the fold.

Rebecca and Teri decided to take a different approach and visited with private sector employers  to see how the talents and skills that are common to persons with ASD would fit into the current job market. “We just decided that maybe we were thinking about this the wrong way. Instead of just looking at educational and development models, we decided to go out and meet with employers to see how the skill set and training we could give might fit with employer needs,” said Rebecca. Key in helping them understand what employers might look for where such companies such as CarFax and Veterans United. “The companies were extremely helpful and open about talking to us about what might work. They were a great help an very open to the idea of hiring persons with autism spectrum disorder who gain skills that mesh with their needs. It was very encouraging,” said Rebecca.

Also encouraging was the welcoming reaction from the relevant government agencies Rebecca visited with, including the local vocational rehabilitation services. “It seemed to me that Vocational Rehab was a bit stumped by the issue of persons with ASD. Of course they have limited resources for all that they are tasked with and they really welcomed what we were trying to do,” said Rebecca.

So what is it that Rebecca and Teri have done? “After all of our research and discussions, we decided that what we thought would work best and most broadly really didn’t exist yet. So Teri and I, we decided to try and do it ourselves. And that is how EnCircle Technologies was born,” said Rebecca.

They formed EnCircle Technologies:

We are a nonprofit company in Columbia, Missouri, specializing in training and coordinating tech work for individuals on the autism spectrum. We train our students in small-group classes and on-the-job experience. We form partnerships with local businesses in order to provide opportunities for increased hands-on learning and work for our students. If you’re a company looking for project work ranging in data entry, webpage development, and webpage content management, contact us to discuss what we can offer you. If you’re a parent looking for the right place and space for your young adult with autism who loves technology, contact us for an interview. We adopt a strength-based perspective as we tap into the skills and abilities of your student. Our goal is to help them become independent with training developed for them in mind. If you’re an individual on the autism spectrum who wants to work with computers, contact us for an interview!
The founders of Encricle Tech
Teri Walden and Rebecca Llorens, the founders of Encircle Tech.
Of course the big issue is money. “We currently have seven students enrolled this year and we offer six classes designed to develop skills that will help our students become happy, productive and independent adults,” said Rebecca. “Funding and expanding are our big challenges now.” Rebecca and Teri have organized EncircleTech as a not for profit 501(c )(3), eligible for tax deductible contributions and grants. “We are applying for grants and doing fundraisers, like our current Indiegogo campaign," said Rebecca.

So what’s next for Encircle? Rebecca mentions the newly enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which:

significantly limits placements at sheltered workshops and other work environments where people with disabilities earn less than minimum wage.
Under the new law, individuals with disabilities age 24 and younger will no longer be allowed to work for less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour unless they first receive pre-employment transition services at school and try vocational rehabilitation services.

The measure also mandates that state vocational rehabilitation agencies work with schools to provide transition services to all students with disabilities and requires that the agencies allocate at least 15 percent of their federal funding toward such transition efforts.

“As we approach the 24th anniversary of the ADA, this bill takes new steps to support Americans with disabilities who want to live and work independently,” Obama said in signing the legislation, which provides a broad update to the nation’s workforce system that took years to come to fruition.

Rebecca explained that sheltered workshops that pay subminimum wage are a common stop for not only persons with autism spectrum disorder but also many other persons with disabilities. Rebecca explained that “while sheltered workshops can often be a good choice for persons who may not want or be capable of more traditional employment, we felt it should not be the default stop for persons with disabilities, especially persons with autism spectrum disorder.” Rebecca applauded the new law as it would be a strong impetus against that trend.

It also gives her inspiration that EnCircle is coming at the right time and will be filling an important need. “The new law will require pre-employment transition services at school and vocational rehabilitation services before shelter workshops become an option,” explained Rebecca. “We think this is good because every person should have an opportunity to live a happy, productive and independent life. We think EnCircle can become a key organization to helping to give persons with autism spectrum disorder that chance,” said Rebecca.

I'll leave you with this video from Encircle:


Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Jul 27, 2014 at 05:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by Koscadia and KosAbility.

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